I was recently asked how I started making money with my recording studio. To be honest, I must first say “WHAT MONEY????”. Recording is one of those crafts where you never have enough toys. It’s very very easy to get sucked into the idea you need this and need that indefinitely. Michael Wagener was always going on about how he wanted this mic or that preamp even though he had more mics and preamps than is morally acceptable. Of course, as home recorders, we are trying to work our way up to the big boys and a part of that eventually entails big boys toys in one way or another.
With that said, it’s nice to have bands paying for your gear addiction. So, maybe I should have named this article “How I Conned Bands Into Buying My Gear” because that’s about the extent of it. Would I be writing this article if my studio made more money than I can stand? Maybe. Maybe not. So just keep in mind that it’s still very tough to make a real living as a recording studio guy. If your name has been on platinum records, you can get buy charging a small fortune to record an album. I know people who consistently snag $40,000 per album and the results are good, not mind blowing. I’ve heard guys who record in their bedroom crank out mindblowing stuff and don’t record for money at all.
Getting Started With Recording For Dollars
First of all, I jumped into this dumb recording thing back in 2001. That was a different time. The idea of computers for recording was accepted, but it was a tiny minority actually doing it. You certainly didn’t have 4% of all computers coming stock from the factory with Garageband back then. Back then, you couldn’t snag a Presonus Firepod for $400. Audio interfaces typically came with 1/4” analog inputs and that was it even though these audio interfaces were usually $600 and up. I dumped $2200 into a pair of M-Audio Delta 1010s and a Mackie 1604 so that I could record 16 simultaneous tracks. You can do that now for about $600, give or take.
So back then the price for admission was quite a bit more expensive and by default less people were doing it. I really got in on the “home studio asshole” revolution from the ground floor. I say “home studio asshole” because that is what the local studio owner with his ADATs and $10k Soundcraft mixer was calling me. He was upset because the milkman was on the way out and he just happened to be in the liquid calcium business. I’d be upset too if I had bought a studio with bad sounding rooms, poor monitoring, and gear that cost a fortune but didn’t sound that good.
The first thing I did after figuring out how to use my gear was record for free. I probably recorded 5-10 albums for nothing. It was a great learning experience. I busted by tail on those. I really put the time in and learned things the hard way. A real expert dude could have saved me a year or two in about 3 days. Oh well!
It wasn’t difficult to recruit bands to record for free. I went to a battle of the bands contest, started talking to bands, passed out some business cards, and it wasn’t long before I was getting calls. Of course, word of mouth spread. People were happy with my work for the price I was charging. Somewhere in there, I started charging $50 per day. I’d put in a 15 hour day for $50. Again this was just part of the learning process. Then I went to $100 days. Then on upward from there.
I have to say that word of mouth has been about 98% of my business. I think too many people have been burned by local studios to go with a stranger. They need someone they trust to record their music. I’m of the opinion that newspaper ads simply don’t do that much for attracting passionate musicians. I’m sure a person could stay fairly busy recording karaoke projects from newspaper ads. This is something I’ve considered doing over the years, but have never really tried for that market. The best way to stay busy as a recording studio dude is by making the client happy. Your clients will pass the word on.
My website certainly helped out a ton. 99% of my “leads” come from emails. I think it is a very good idea to have a website to let potential clients check out your work, see the bands you’ve recorded before, and things of that sort. A simple WordPress blog is more than adequate. (If you need any help with web stuff, don’t be shy about asking. Web work is what really pays my bills.)
There was a local music forum that really took off not long after I started recording. I stayed very active on the forum. I was always looking to talk to new people and get my name out there. I think this helped tremendously in getting my name out to a large audience in a very short period of time. It was more an issue of “when” local musicians were going to record with me than “who” I am. Staying active in the local community is a big part of the local studio thing.
Making Money Is Harder Now
These days, more and more people are attempting to record themselves with Garageband, Cubase, etc. In most cases, these bands aren’t interested in dedicating their life to audio engineering. Most are musicians and want to stay that way. So I haven’t heard too many local bands who recorded themselves that have impressed me. As bands get more serious, they get more likely to call me. However, it needs to be said that it was easier back in the day when home recordings were mostly limited to 4-track tapes.
If You Want To Make Money….Starve!
If you are serious about making a living as a recording dude, the best way is to have some big records under your belt. The best way to achieve this is not through recording school, but by assisting a big producer. A big producer can share a vast amount of knowledge with you. A big producer has huge contacts which allow you to buddy up with other big boys. You get the idea. The big producer is the path to take if you want to be on the fast track.
If you don’t have big records under you belt, you need some big sounding records with your name on them. It needs to be said that a great sounding recording is not nearly as good as having the same quality recordings with a famous band’s name on it. It’s more important to say “ I have recorded 3 Doors Down” than it is to say “My recordings sound better than 3 Doors Down”. However, if your recordings sound nowhere close to the big boys, there really isn’t much reason for people to pay you. When the reasons are low, the price is low and the income is low. You get the idea.
So if you are going to teach yourself how to make killer recordings, you need to get busy! Wannabe audio engineers are a dime a dozen. A dime also happens to be the average band’s budget! So get in now and record, record, record until you puke, puke, puke. Get in there and become a hermit. Give up on you friends, family, and any other concept of a social life you have. Dig in and learn how to record music well.
There is no rocket science to promoting a recording studio. The work will speak for itself, so once you get the ball rolling, you should continue to get phone calls and emails. You can get creative to get the work out, but everything revolves around the studio’s ability to make the client happy. Terrible studios with great marketing efforts don’t last long.
You have you work cut out for you these days. There are less people who rely on a third party for recording than ever before. I guess it’s possible that there are more musicians now than ever before, but that is just a guess. There are way too many other guys out there with Presonus Firepods or RME Firefaces in their basements to be able to make any real money simply capturing sound. You’ve got to bring more to the table. It’s time to get busy recording, NOW!